Researchers in the US have developed a microneedle patch that can be applied to the skin and help to burn fat locally. The patch releases a drug that converts white fat to energy-burning brown fat, and could help to reduce “love handles”, and treat obesity and diabetes. Medgadget recently covered drug-loaded nanoparticles that are able to turn white fat cells to brown.
Humans store fat as either white fat or brown fat. Brown fat tissue burns relatively easily, while white fat tends to act as a long-term energy storage. Babies have more brown fat, which they burn to keep warm. By adulthood, most brown fat is gone, and we store white fat, which is more difficult to shift.
Scientists have been searching for drugs that can convert white fat to brown fat, as a treatment for obesity and diabetes, but many of these have significant side-effects in other tissues, meaning they can’t be taken as a pill or injection. In a recent study, scientists developed a microneedle patch that can deliver a “fat-browning” drug through the skin to affect fat cells underneath, without it spreading throughout the entire body.
The researchers encapsulated the drug in nanoparticles that dissolve when they enter the body, resulting in a sustained release of the drug. “The nanoparticles were designed to effectively hold the drug and then gradually collapse, releasing it into nearby tissue in a sustained way instead of spreading the drug throughout the body quickly,” said Zhen Gu, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The team tested the patches in obese mice, and found a 20% reduction of fat in the treated tissue. The animals also had lower blood glucose levels, suggesting the patches could act as a diabetes treatment. “Many people will no doubt be excited to learn that we may be able to offer a noninvasive alternative to liposuction for reducing love handles,” says Li Qiang, assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center. “What’s much more important is that our patch may provide a safe and effective means of treating obesity and related metabolic disorders such as diabetes.”